The Imaginary Mysteries of Qumran
Do the scrolls from the Dead Sea cave disprove the Bible? Is this an “archaeological bomb” planted under the Christian tradition? Are scientists hiding a sensation from the people? Intrigue and myths have accompanied the entire history of the Qumran findings.
In 1947, many ancient Jewish manuscripts were found in the Judean Desert, near the ruins called Qumran. The scientific world was stunned – after all, the age of the scrolls exceeded two thousand years! From them it was hoped to learn something new about the religious life of the Jewish people – just before the coming of Christ. Many of the circumstances of the birth of Christianity would have become clearer. But the publication of the manuscripts was very slow. This generated a lot of rumors and speculation, including sensational documents that the Catholic Church was allegedly hiding.
The Archaeological War
In the spring of 1947, two boys from the nomadic Taamire tribe were herding goats. And quite by chance, in search of a runaway goat, they discovered a cave. Hoping to find treasure, they climbed inside – and were greatly disappointed. Instead of gold and jewels, they found clay vessels wrapped in linen cloth with leather scrolls. An attempt to cut the leather into belts failed because the material was too old and decrepit. Then, on the advice of their tribesmen, they sold the leather scrolls with incomprehensible inscriptions to a Jerusalem antiquary.
This is the official version of the discovery of the Qumran scrolls. It is possible, however, that the Bedouins were combing the caves in search of treasure. In any case, when it became possible to trade in their finds, they did not fail to take advantage of it. In 1952, an international scientific expedition went to the Judean Desert in search of new scrolls. It was here that the real archeological war began between the local tribes and the scientists. Nomads tried to be the first to seize the manuscripts to sell them to archaeologists. Often they were lucky and the scholars had to buy the scrolls back. In this case the most valuable information was lost – in what caves and how manuscripts were found, how they were located, etc. Therefore, archaeologists, in turn, sought to get to the vaults before the Bedouins did.
General view of Qumran
“Cold” archaeological war, thank God, did not develop into a “hot” one, but it still bore its sad fruit. Many legends about the Qumran findings are connected precisely with the fact that the scientists were not able to do their work quietly, and the first manuscripts found and published, as it turned out later, had no direct relation to the main part of what was stored in the caves on the shore of the Dead Sea. The work of archaeologists and the painstaking desk work of scientists to decipher and translate the manuscripts stretched over four decades. Meanwhile, the sensation-loving public discussed the “Qumran secrets,” which were supposed to blow up our entire understanding of the era of Jesus Christ and disprove the Gospels.
How the myth was born
Strange as it may seem, the main “culprit” for the emergence of misunderstandings was a priest. It was a prominent Catholic biblical scholar, the head of an archaeological expedition, Father Rohlan de Vaux. He suggested that the ruins of Qumran were a monastery belonging to the ancient Jewish sect of the Jesseites. In four of the seven scrolls that were found first and immediately published, just talked about the structure and life of this sect.
According to the ancient authors (Philo of Alexandria, Pliny the Elder, Josephus Flavius, St. Hippolytus of Rome), the Yeseis lived all over Palestine, including the cities, in rather isolated communities, characterized by common property, collective labor and life. They condemned war, slavery, and trade, rejected blood sacrifices, and had a special ritual of ritual ablutions. Some Yesseis were celibate.
The term “sect” was introduced by Josephus Flavius in the first century A.D. to describe the religious life of then-Palestine and is more consistent with the modern concept of a “religious movement. In the modern world, a sect is thought of as something not only separate from the mainstream, but also opposed to it (e.g., the “White Brotherhood” in relation to the Orthodox or Catholic Church, etc.). In Christ-era Palestine there was no single general direction, but rather a number of religious movements, not only comparable in number of members, but also mutually influencing one another.
Remains of fortifications have been found at Qumran, and many manuscripts have been found nearby in caves. In trying to determine what exactly he was excavating, the Abbé Roland de Vaux thought in terms of the Catholic monastery. We know that medieval Catholic (as well as Orthodox) monasteries were not only centers of spiritual life, but also military fortresses and centers of education, where books were kept and copied. In any monastery the central place was occupied by a library and a scriptorium (a room for transcribing books). As it seemed to the leader of the expedition, he found all this among the ruins of Qumran. In addition, the life of the Hesite community, as described in the published manuscripts, was very similar to the monastic way of life.
In itself, Father Roland de Vaux’s hypothesis is quite admissible. However, there were ridiculous rumors surrounding the work of the scientists who deciphered the manuscripts, of the same type as the newspaper “sensations” about how Christ was “really” born, or that “science proved” that Christ had visited the Himalayas. in short, things that have nothing to do with real science.
Plan of the structure of Khirbet Qumran by the time of the earthquake of 31 B.C.
The first published manuscripts repeatedly referred to a certain “Teacher of Righteousness.” As a result, the scheme emerged: monastery + Jesse + Teacher of Righteousness. Hence speculation was born about a “Messianic Christ,” which the Gospel writers were supposedly inspired to tell about Jesus. This myth existed for decades and collapsed only after the publication in 1991 of all the scrolls and a review of the findings of archaeological expeditions from 1951 to 1956.
What they dug up.
What does modern science say about Qumran? First, the “monastic” hypothesis of Father R. de Vos has been questioned. Archaeologists have concluded that the “monastery” was most likely a well-fortified country estate of some noble Judean. Farming and crafts were practiced there. Many luxuries and money were found at Qumran. This is absolutely impossible for a settlement of the Yeseis, who were a mendicant sect and were devoid of any connection to the world of material goods.
Secondly, Roland de Vaux’s beautiful theory about the Qumran scriptorium, where books were copied, did not stand up to criticism. Only one inkpot was found in the ruins, while handwriting analysis proved the texts were written by more than five hundred different people! Not even the largest medieval monastery could boast such a number of scribes.
Copper scrolls in uncut condition
Today it is obvious that the manuscripts of Qumran are not the work of the monastic scribes, but of a library. They were taken to various places in Judea and preserved there in vessels which were then brought back to be used again. It is even possible that the Jews evacuated the library, which was directly in the Temple in Jerusalem, and that what was found in Qumran was a small part of it.
The final “eviction” of the Yeseis from Qumran occurred after the publication of all the manuscripts in 1991-92, when the hypothesis of a monastic scriptorium was followed by the collapse of the myth that the library belonged to the community of the Yeseis. About 900 texts were found in Qumran. All of them date from the third century B.C. to the beginning of the first century A.D. Of these, only a few dozen were “Hesychic” texts. In modern parlance, the four sectarian scrolls which were published first and led everyone astray, turned out to be part of the “special treasury” of a large library. For the most part, however, the Dead Sea Scrolls are well known biblical texts, featuring in excerpts almost all the books of the Old Testament, as well as non-biblical non-sectarian manuscripts.
With the publication of the entire corpus of Qumran manuscripts, the answer to the question of whether they refute the Gospel story became apparent. To the great regret of sensation-lovers: no. Moreover, the scrolls of Qumran fully confirm it. The “teacher of righteousness” turned out to be a character typical only of sectarian scrolls, while non-sectarian manuscripts are filled with prophecies about the coming Messiah, whom the Jews of that era were anxiously waiting for and writing about. The last texts found in Qumran were created shortly before the birth of Jesus Christ, so they very accurately reflect the moods of that era. The Jewish people were waiting for the day of the birth of the Messiah, but we knew that even before Qumran.
Of the 900 texts found near Qumran, only 11 were in whole scrolls, while the rest had to be reconstructed from some 25,000 fragmentary scraps, many of which were no larger than a postage stamp. The work of restoring the texts was not completed until the early 1960s. It was not until the 1990s that it became possible to systematize the Qumran scrolls. The scrolls date from the 3rd century BC to the early 1st century AD. The non-Biblical, nonsectarian texts are of particular interest, as they allow us to analyze the religious beliefs of the Jews in Palestine from the Second Temple period (538 BC to 70 AD). It has been established that most (perhaps all) of the scrolls were written outside of Qumran.
However, the Dead Sea manuscripts are very clear as to why, after waiting for Christ, the Jews rejected Him. Among the scrolls of Qumran were found manuscripts of the “Messianic Compendium” and the “Messiah of heaven and earth. This is a collection of biblical prophecies and non-biblical texts that show exactly what kind of Messiah the Jews were waiting for. Here again, the Qumran gave nothing new. The Messiah from Qumran’s unbiblical texts is a political and military leader who will miraculously defeat all the enemies and enslavers of Israel and put the Jews in charge of the nations of the world.
It is interesting that among the manuscripts is the biblical book of the prophet Isaiah, who is called the Old Testament evangelist. It is Isaiah’s prophecies that the Messiah, being God, would become man by being born of a virgin, that He would take away the sins of the world and willingly accept death for men. These prophecies are constantly referred to by the Gospel writers. But the idea of the suffering of the Messiah was not popular among the Jews. None of the Qumran unbiblical manuscripts describe the Savior’s suffering for the sins of His people-just descriptions of His power, glory, and might.
The Gospel Christ, who came to free people from the bondage of sin, who said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” was not at all like the ideal Messiah that was expected in Judea at the turn of the century. In this sense, Qumran adds nothing new to the conflict between Jesus and the religious teachers of Israel that the Gospels speak of and which ultimately ended in Calvary.
This is the result of nearly fifty years of research on the Dead Sea manuscripts. They did not disprove the gospel or shake Christianity. Moreover, scientifically, the Gospel has been given additional weight, it has been verified once again, this time by Qumran. And let some people with esoteric romanticism continue to tell about sensational findings in Qumran, allegedly revealing secret knowledge or hidden truth, but from the point of view of modern science all these statements are nothing more than outdated gossip, which appeared in the 60s of the last century. And there is no need to drag them into the new century.
The Dead Sea Scrolls: Proof of the Bible
The Dead Sea Scrolls found in the Qumran caves are one of the most powerful tools we can use to prove the reliability of the Bible. When Christians preach to unbelievers, they are confronted with the need to confirm the foundations of their faith. The Bible speaks of this as a commendable quality.
The people of Berea are called “prudent” for their efforts to confirm the apostle Paul’s correct use of Scripture (Acts 17:11). The apostle Peter affirmed this need for believers to be “always ready to give an answer” about their “trust” for those who ask us (1 Peter 3:15). We are also encouraged to be more mature in our knowledge so that we are not carried away by all the winds of doctrine. (Ephesians 4:14). In other words, we need to know what we believe and why we believe it.
Part of living as children of light, shining in the dark generation (Philippians 2:10-13) includes knowing how to respond to ignorance and skepticism. This is especially important when it comes to answering questions about the reliability and validity of the Bible. For example, how do we know that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that it has not been changed over the centuries? After all, it is an ancient document, and how can we tell that it has not gone through significant changes and the rendering of the Bible text is accurate?
What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 931 documents that date from 200 BC to 40 AD, which were hidden in caves near the Dead Sea in Israel and finally discovered about 60 years ago. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is the greatest literary and archaeological discovery of our time. Written on parchment (animal skin) and papyrus, they remain the oldest copies of the original documents that make up the Hebrew Bible we know as the “Old Testament.
They contain parts of every book of the Old Testament except the book of Esther. They also contain references to many books of the Bible and non-Biblical writings, reflecting the beliefs of a unique community of Jews, which many scholars call the Jesseites. These documents reveal the history of Judaism between 200 B.C. – 68 A.D. and provide new insights into life and culture at the time of Jesus Christ. These ancient documents were found in clay jars that were sealed and placed in numerous caves in the mountains of Judea in an area called “Qumran” near the Dead Sea, about 16 miles from Jerusalem. The dry climate of the area protected the scrolls from the ravages of moisture for centuries.
The scrolls remained hidden until 1947, when a Bedouin shepherd made the original discovery. He was a member of the Temerian Bedouin tribe that had settled in the desert area between Bethlehem and the Dead Sea. He was a teenager who was herding a flock. Looking for a lost goat, he entered one of the caves.
According to the original version, to scare the goat and drive it out, he threw a stone into the cave. Instead of hearing the goat bleat, he heard the sound of broken pottery. The shepherd went up to what was called Cave No. 1 and found an ancient clay jug with seven scrolls. Some of the scrolls had been sold in Bethlehem to an antiquities dealer. He in turn sold them to the archbishop of the monastery in Jerusalem. Other scrolls were sold to another antiquary, who in turn sold them to the Hebrew University. After a period of time, several caves were searched, British archaeologists were involved and more scrolls were found. About 15,000 fragments representing about 600 manuscripts were found in cave number 4. They were not in jars, but under the floor of the cave.
This has led scholars to believe that it was a quick burial of the scrolls, due to the impending danger of the Roman invasion of Jewish territory in AD 68, which subsequently led to the total destruction of Jerusalem. There were more fragments in other caves. In all, more than 15,000 fragments of scrolls were found that were written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
The theory of the Jessean community
The caves were used by a community of Jews who lived in the Judean Desert during the 1st century as places to store scrolls. This community of Jews was known as the Yeseis, a radical grouping of Jews who devoted themselves to Torah observance and a creed that differed from the popular practice of Judaism in Jerusalem at that time. We know about the Yeseis mainly from the writings of Josephus Flavius, a Jewish historian who was appointed by the Romans in the 1st century to describe Jewish history. The Heshites were described as a sect of Jews who separated themselves from the corruption that they believed was going on among the Jewish priests in Jerusalem. The Essaians chose to exercise their pure worship outside the city. Their respect for the Word led them to devote themselves to painstaking work: copying the sacred texts by hand. Many copies of entire scrolls like Genesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah were found in their library, which was located in caves in a nearby region.
The Journey of the Scrolls
After the Dead Sea Scrolls were examined and scholars confirmed their authenticity, they began to be offered for sale. In 1948, during the Arab-Israeli War, many of the scrolls were transported to the United States. After the scrolls were put up for sale in the Wall Street Journal, an anonymous archaeologist bought the scrolls for the State of Israel for $250,000.00. The scrolls were later put on public display at The Shrine of the Book Museum in Jerusalem, a specially built museum for the scrolls.
In fact, the architecture of the museum was designed to resemble a jug, and inside the museum displays show the manuscripts in scroll form.
The State of Israel also preserves other scrolls and fragments in the basement of the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, which maintains a certain microclimate. The scrolls are also in other countries, such as the Citadel Museum in Amman, Jordan. Fortunately, to ensure the preservation of the scrolls, archaeologists and scientists have been chosen to coordinate and carefully match the fragments, according to the most advanced technology. Coordinating the publication of the scrolls for the entire world to understand their contents continues to be controversial. Periodically, some of the scrolls and artifacts found in the caves are shown in exhibitions in various cities. These exhibitions are sponsored under the patronage of the Israel Antiquities Authority. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend an exhibit that came to San Diego, California in 2008.
The significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls
The fact that the Dead Sea Scrolls are 2,000 years old makes them the oldest known copies of the books of the Old Testament that exist today. The peculiar fact that such writings have been able to survive and not crumble into dust is truly astounding. The real significance, however, is that they have confirmed the accuracy of the text and meaning of the Bible over the years, despite skeptics’ accusations that the translations contain flaws.
Doubts about the integrity and reliability of the Hebrew text have been resolved once and for all with the discovery of the Book of Isaiah, which was written in 125 B.C. The scroll was found in Cave No. 4 and is 24 meters long and appears to have been written 1000 years earlier than the earliest manuscript of Isaiah, which is known as the Masoretic Ben Asher Codex. When scholars have compared the two scrolls they are almost identical to each other. These scrolls provide compelling evidence for the authenticity of the Bible we now have.
From the editor: You have a unique opportunity to see these scrolls on a special website dedicated to them–http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/isaiah
The Value of the Finding for Christians
The Jewish people were extremely proud of the quotations of the ancient documents and cherished them. I believe it is time for all believers to join the Jewish faith in understanding their importance. They reinforce the truth that the Scriptures have been preserved to an amazing degree for thousands of years. God has continually vigilantly protected His revelation from the time they were originally written until now. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, these ancient copies of biblical manuscripts are an effective tool in protecting the authority of the biblical text preserved over the centuries. The fact that the entire scroll of Isaiah is on display, for those who want to compare it for omissions or errors, is convincing evidence for any skeptic.
Interestingly, the Epistle of Isaiah contains some of the most descriptive passages about the Messiah of all the prophetic books. It is also special in that it is the most extensively quoted from the books of the Old Testament, mainly chapter 53 about the Messiah who suffers as a servant who will be sacrificed for the sins of the people. It is hard not to be surprised that God wants this prophecy confirmed for anyone who doubts the reliability of the Bible and does not believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. We can be sure that this prophecy of the crucifixion was given several hundred years before the event itself took place.
Isaiah saw the execution of the Messiah carried out by his own people in a vision and wrote it all down. Rabbis over the centuries have struggled to make sense of this message. Although the concept of the suffering servant of the Messiah runs counter to popular messianic expectations, Isaiah clearly describes a righteous Jew who will suffer as a lamb on behalf of the people. No other Jew fulfills this prophecy as completely as the one we know as Yeshua of Nazareth.
How fortunate we are to live in this time when God has allowed mankind, to have access to them! Thanks to the Internet, we even have access to them online. Let us be thankful and grateful for this treasure with its important meaning. May God give us wisdom in using the power of this wonderful resource as we claim the power of God’s living Word.
“All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is as the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower withers, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it: so also the people are grass. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. (Isaiah 40:6-8 / 1 Peter 1:24-25)
Written by Philip Lester, Bloomfield, New Jersey
Translation – Vitaly Popovich, Alexander Chergikalo
Visit the Dead Sea Scrolls website – http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/
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